When the US announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed in a firefight in a Pakistani military town it was inevitable that questions would arise. And they have. There are some who believe that bin Laden has been dead for years – or who see the US’s refusal to release photographic evidence as a clear sign of dodgy dealings. Admittedly, these are valid points but I can not help thinking that the official line is true – the story (much like the moon landing) is too big for a cover up to last. It would have been easier to let the world forget about that part of the mission in Afghanistan and to carry on as normal. And to those wanting photographs – I can only ask why anyone would want to see a man with a bullet wound in his head? Obama is doing the right thing in not fuelling the anger of al-Qaeda.
Even so, there are some questions that need answering. For example, how did the world’s most wanted man manage to live just several hundred feet from Pakistan’s most important military base and academy? It is hard to believe that no one from the country knew who was behind the eighteen-foot high walls of the compound. And the place wasn’t exactly inconspicuous. It had two security gates, all rubbish was burnt on-site, there were no internet or telephone lines, very few people came and went. This all points to someone who does not want to be found. The US clearly had suspicions about Pakistan’s involvement because it failed to notify the country and nearly suffered a calamity when Pakistan intercepted the US’s helicopters – fearing an attack. Pakistan denies any knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts – obviously – and is demanding to know why America breached its sovereignty. The relationship between the two allies, hitherto united by the war on terror, has cooled dramatically. Distrust is growing on both sides.
The other question, of course, is whether the US has succeeded in anything by killing bin Laden. Well, yes and no. For those who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks, the death of their mastermind may provide some form of closer. But for the country as a whole, bin Laden’s death can not be seen as justice. 3000 people died at the World Trade Centre. Mr bin Laden never stood trial. (Not that that would have worked. He could not have received a fair trial among all the media hype. The trial might have collapsed.) No, justice was not served. What they did succeed in doing, however, was annoy a lot of people to whom Osama bin Laden was a revered figurehead. This was acknowledged by the stepping-up of security procedures all around the world. Many believe that a revenge attack is imminent. Killing bin Laden has not decapitated al-Qaeda because he had not been an operational leader for a long time, but it has given them a new reason to hate America.
All this comes at a very convenient time for Mr Obama. Having authorised the operation, he can quite reasonably accept the credit for it – and most Americans feel it deserves credit (rather bizarre scenes of celebrations at Ground Zero show this). With elections round the corner Obama is going to do very well out of this. He is also planning a (minor) scale down in troop numbers in Afghanistan soon, and the completion of one of the war’s key aims gives him an ideal reason to do so other than ‘that is what the public want’ which would make him seem week. Very handy. So handy, in fact, that some believe that the President held off the raid on bin Laden’s compound until he could capitalise on its effects.
Whether Pakistan is proven to have known or not, whether al-Qaeda respond and how, whether Obama enjoys improved ratings in the polls, does not change the fact that – just as 9/11 did – Osama bin Laden’s death will have a lasting and tangible effect on the world.